Mistress America & The Importance of Ageless Friendships

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

So a couple of months back I watched Noah Baumbach's Mistress America and it got me thinking about having friendships with people out of our age range. 

First of all, let me tell you briefly what Mistress America is about in a nutshell. Meet Tracy and Brooke. Out of the blue, a sort of miracle happens. Tracy's divorced mother is getting remarried and tells Tracy to get in touch with her fiance's daughter, Brooke. However, they're kind of like chalk and cheese. 

Tracy is a fresher college student, about 18 years old, yet to experience 'real' life. She's adjusting to college life, feeling lonely, depressed, and is quite quiet and reserved.

Brooke is completely different. In her 30's. Fun, ambitious, loud, open, no filter. She's like Tracy's wiser, older, cooler sister, full of confidence, at least on the outside. 

The two meet and Brooke is like the confidante Tracy always needed. Brooke brings out the fun side of life, provides a source of wisdom to Tracy to guide her through the crippling anxieties of starting college. Brooke essentially becomes a shoulder to lean on for Tracy and vise versa.

I actually remember reading something about this a while ago on the blog Ropes of Holland where the writer discussed cross-generation relationships and how relationships with the older generations, or younger can benefit both parties. Not only is it good for your mental health and wellbeing, but it is also said that “The more contact young people have with older adults, the less anxious they are about their own aging, and the less ageist they are” Allan & Johnson, 2009; Allan et al., 2014.  

It's a very interesting subject and got me thinking of all the times in my life I've appreciated the company of someone older than me. I used to get along with all of my grandparents, who I lost all pretty early on in my life. I liked their wisdom, their stories and their outlook on life. They had a lot to tell me. They were the comforting, wiser figure in my life and I provided them with a reminder of youth and discovery. As I was learning and making mistakes, they could help me learn from their own experiences. It's the same with my parents, aunts, uncles and so on. 

A lot like Tracy and Brooke, these relationships brought, and still bring, a lot of comfort for me. Relationships with someone older or younger can give alternative perspectives on life. 

I find it hard to believe that ageism is actually a thing, that some people don't want to talk to or be around older people. I just find it so bizarre because when I see someone older, I see all the years more they've lived than me and all the stories that they have to tell and I find it hard to see the age, or a reason to discriminate. I might even go as far as saying, sometimes in the past, I've probably gotten on better with people older than me. Maybe I'm just an old soul! (heheh)

An older person has more experience, years ahead of you which adds to the excitement and the mystery. They know a bit more than you, but you also can tell them about what's going on in your generation too. You can contrast and compare experiences.

Towards the end of the Mistress America, the two eventually find out that they won't be becoming stepsisters after all. So where does that leave them after all of this? Strangers? 

What it made me realise was that, without both their parents initially planning to get married, they were unlikely to have crossed paths, or made the effort to form a friendship. The film eventually ends in an argument, Brooke saying that Tracy was like a 'leech' in her life and latched on as soon as she could, to which Tracy responds that Brooke loved giving the advice. 

In a way Tracy did latch on, as someone, an only child, who was feeling lonely in a big city would do when she is offered the chance of a potential stepsister. Brooke did enjoy giving advice to Tracy. It gave her back a sense of purpose and structure in her chaotic life. It made her feel more in control of her somewhat out-of-control 30's. Either consciously or subconsciously, each woman was exactly what the other needed. Whilst Tracy was experiencing anxieties of youth and entering the adult world, Brooke was equally going through the anxieties of middle age. In some ways, Brooke was a projection of Tracy's future self, or what she hoped to be. Though they didn't become stepsisters, the relationship came together for a reason.

Everyone out there has the potential to inspire or shape your life, whatever their age. Some of the most vulnerable people throughout the lockdown across the world right now may be older people, who may experience isolation on a regular basis. Like in Mistress America, Tracy and Brooke find that they aren't really that different despite the age gap. What can be learned is that ageless friendships are important to remind the elder of their youth, and the youth of aging all while eliminating the anxiety of becoming an adult, and the anxieties of being one.